Kaleidoscope’s – The Big Debate

Chaired by Adele Blakebrough, The Big Debate was the evening event of Kaleidoscope’s conference on women’s issues.

The panel included politicians – Kirstie Williams, leader of the Liberal Democrats in Wales, Suzy Davis for the Conservatives, Jocelyn Davies from Plaid Cymru, Julie Morgan of the Labour Party – and solicitor Kirstie Douse, head of legal services for the charity Release. Questions were welcomed on all aspects of women’s issues, with the following relating more specifically to drink and drugs:

 How will services be maintained in rural areas with the loss of rural weighting from Welsh funding? Kirstie Douse said that people in rural areas should be encouraged to lobby for increased accessibility. Julie Morgan argued that funding was scarce and there were more people in urban areas. It was generally accepted that problems could be more hidden, though no less real, in rural areas. Suzy Davis advocated better use of human rather than just financial resources, but acknowledged that this would also require funding.

 Should the Welsh Assembly push for a minimum pricing policy for alcohol? The point was made that there were indications that Westminster intended to abandon these plans. However a show of hands saw a majority vote in favour of minimum pricing. Julie Morgan said Labour would support it, but they didn’t have the powers. Suzy Davis argued that minimum pricing made addiction more expensive, and this was echoed from the floor, when a woman, describing herself as an alcoholic, contrasted drinking in city centres with the very different issues facing a mother feeding her children less, in order to fund her secret drinking habit. Kirstie Williams claimed that minimum pricing on its own would not change behaviour, since every addiction was different, but it may play a part as a deterrent.

 Is rehab a luxury reserved for men? It was claimed that rehab units tended to be designed around men’s needs rather than women’s. Jocelyn Davies said that the lack of women’s facilities wasn’t deliberate, but happened because historically they were designed for men. All the panel agreed this was something that needed action, for example by providing childcare and single-sex facilities where women would feel less intimidated. Similar points were made about prisons and integrated defender intervention.

 What is being done about IPV and substance abuse? The link between IPV (intimate partner violence) and substance use had been discussed during the day conference. Kirstie Williams advocated more informed, holistic approaches, with joined-up services and an overarching campaign. She said that this would be more cost effective, and would also encompass a more realistic understanding of the relevant issues.

 Is it time for an impact assessment concerning the failure of prohibition? Jocelyn Davies said that legalising drugs would mean there were more things, like tobacco and alcohol, that ’everyone tries,’ which in itself had further implications. The panel welcomed the idea of wider debate on the subject and noted the difficulties politicians faced when taking an individual stance on this.

 Other questions included the so-called ‘bedroom’ tax, prison facilities in Wales, and the work/life balance for women with families.